Devourer of books with a preference for fiction. Quite good at competitive reading. Happily hoards books of all kinds. Gets stabby going too long without reading.
One evening, when Lady Emma Avery, popularly known in the ton as "London's Least Likely to Misbehave" is getting drunk with her two best friends (who are also wallflowers who will be meeting their intended husbands in later books). While she isn't noticed by most of polite society, Emma does have a young man whom she dreams of a future with, but after three years, he's still not shown any signs of proposing to her. Her friends joke about how she might get more attention if she announced her betrothal to the most eligible bachelor in town, the Duke of Ashbrooke, and even pen a fake announcement.
Emma is appalled when she realises the fake announcement has been printed and everyone suddenly thinks she's snagged the Duke of Ashbrooke without anyone even noticing. Ashbrooke himself is rather amused to find he's engaged to a woman he's never met, but considering his business ventures are currently suffering because of his reputation as a rake and a libertine, being romantically linked with one of the most proper and respectable misses in London can only count in his favour. He also has an eccentric old aunt who every year forces all her relatives to compete in a series of random and unpredictable trials at her country seat. The winner becomes the heir to her fantabulous fortune for until the next trials are completed. Ashbrooke has never won, but very much needs the money to finance his new inventions and believes that bringing Lady Emma along may improve his chances. He therefore convinces Emma to agree to pose as his fiancee, promising to split the fortune with her if they win this year's trials. As Emma doesn't really have any dowry to speak of, and believes that may be why her reluctant suitor is still undeclared, the promise of a massive fortune (as well as the chance to spend some time with the ridiculously attractive Ashbrooke) gets her to agree.
Ashbrooke is used to any woman falling for him within minutes and turns on all of his considerable charm to win Emma over. She keeps her beloved Benedict firmly in her mind and while she's melting on the inside, refuses to show Ashbrooke how he affects her. Naturally this just makes him more determined to seduce her. As they are forced to fake their infatuation, spend copious amounts of time together and even write fake love letters to one another to support the story of their secret whirlwind love affair, Emma's feelings for Ashbrooke grow stronger, while she's also worried that the minute she succumbs to him, he'll get bored and dump her.
What I like about the book is the portrayal of female friendships. Emma and her friends have a realistic relationship, and I also actually liked Emma's Mean Girl nemesis. You rarely see women in romance actually getting together and getting drunk, or even spending all that much time together except as rivals for the same guy. Sadly, most of the book is focused on Emma and Blake and the many zany things they have to do to amuse his cranky old aunt, but I appreciated their presence in the beginning of the book. I liked Blake's relationship with his aunt and how they would say really mean things to each other to mask their true emotions. Blake was orphaned at an early age and his aunt was one of the few people who gave him emotional support without coddling him. While there was absolutely a slightly mercenary aspect to him competing for her money, the reader is never in doubt that he loves her, and part of the reason he even travels to the competition is to spend more time with his ailing aunt.
As the inimitable Mrs. Julien has already pointed out, this book passes the time agreeably enough, but doesn't have many of the qualities that make the story memorable or really great. It's not a bad book, but I read it about a month ago now, and I'm struggling to remember all the details. While I'm less bothered about anachronistic details than my partner in romance reviewing is, there was nothing here that made me want to run out and track down more books in the series. Of course, before reading this, I actually bought the sequel in an e-book sale, so Rodale is guaranteed at least one more review from me, but she's going to have to raise the stakes if she wants to graduate to my auto-buy list.